Cigar could spark New York revival

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The Independent Online
Halling looked in such good health when coming out for the Classic, his coat gleaming in the dappled sunshine, that the 7-1 showing on the totalisator board against Europe's principle challenger appeared to represent excellent value.

As this meant opposing the odds-on favourite, Cigar, who was trying for his 12th consecutive victory and a reputation to match that of such modern American racing heroes as Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Seattle Slew and Alydar, the discretion advised by an expatriate horsewoman from Sussex ensured that there would be no need to take out a second mortgage.

The knowledge that Eleanor Monkhouse has gained since crossing the Atlantic six years ago to further ambitions as a trainer, working first with Michael Dickinson, who emigrated after a bleak experience in the employ of Robert Sangster, and now with Frank Whiteley in Kentucky, cautioned against the notion Cigar might not act on a track made sloppy by heavy rain. "Halling looks terrific," she said, "but I think Cigar will handle the conditions and might be exceptional."

An opinion held generally in American racing circles was confirmed when Jerry Bailey brought the five-year-old home easily by two and a half lengths, while Halling barely hacked home, last of 11 runners.

If conditions and the racing calendar prevented Halling from striking another blow for the Godolphin organisation, the importance of Cigar's success to the sport in the United States, especially in New York, cannot be overemphasised.

Transformed from the handicapper who had lost 11 of 12 races until switched to dirt a year ago, Cigar has become the star attraction needed to arrest declining interest in racing brought about partly by wider opportunities for casino gambling.

As an attendance of 37,000 at Belmont Park fell below expectations and was the second lowest in the Breeders' Cup, too much cannot be made of the progress Cigar has made.

Those previously mentioned thoroughbreds were probably superior and, of course, nobody speaks of Cigar in the same breath as the great Secretariat, but a bystander who referred to him as a "Godsend" was voicing a popular conclusion.

Cigar's trainer, Bill Mott, was reverent in appreciation. "Amazing," he said. "He's won 10 times this year, 12 in a row. He did the job again. It's a thing of beauty to watch him run. He's fluid and thrilling; a great horse."

Cigar's triumph also served to remind us that Britain is poorly served by the policy of sending Classic victors to stud at the height of their popularity as Cigar will carry on next year. "He is giving us a great deal of enjoyment and as long as there isn't evidence of strain we'll continue to race him," Allen Paulson, Cigar's owner, said.

It also turned out to be a great day for the Irish who sent up a thunderous cheer when John Murtagh brought Ridgewood Pearl through heavy going to win the Mile. "Whose flag is that?" an American asked as Ridgewood Pearl's owner, Sean Coughlan, raced down from the grandstand trailing the Irish Tricolour. In the most advanced society on earth insularity knows no bounds.

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